Story by Anna Bartlett
Emil Dean Peeler, senior pastor of Allegheny East Conference's Capitol Hill church (DC), recently wrote Discipleship Guide: Bible Principles for Growing Disciples. Peeler holds a doctorate in ministry, and has served in various positions of leadership in the body of Christ and broader community, most notably as pastor, conference evangelist, author, associate ministerial director, college professor, and director of Church Growth and Evangelism of Southeastern California Conference.
Peeler draws not only on his personal experience growing up Adventist and growing in discipleship with God, but also his 33 years and counting ministerial experience to write his new book.
In our interview with Peeler below, learn more about this book, and how it can help move your Christian experience from membership to discipleship.
Visitor: Many books have been written on discipleship and discipling, what inspired you to write this one?
Peeler: This resource was written as a tool to share basic foundational principles that are extracted distinctly from the Bible to promote a clear understanding of the road of discipleship. Though there are many resources on this subject, I have not seen many tools that actually use the Word of God as the primary source for their volumes. These verses are linked together by themes of faith and by four stages of Discipleship that help build a clear, concise path to growing and living as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Visitor: You say the greatest need for the body of Christ is for the people of God to move from Membership to Discipleship. In your words, what is the difference between membership and discipleship, and how can your book help us move from one to the other?
Peeler: In a nutshell, a Christian disciple is a life-long learner of Jesus Christ. Therefore, discipleship-based Christianity is about a way of life, whereas membership-based Christianity is more of an event-based religion. Members are more influenced by culture; Disciples are more influenced by the Kingdom of God. Members are more connected to God by ritual and the institution; Disciples are more connected to God by a relationship.
This guide helps to teach that growing disciples live their lives learning and applying the teachings and example of Christ through a life of submission, self-sacrifice, and obedience. It seeks to be a tool that helps to clearly explain that Jesus called each one of his followers to follow, obey, serve, and learn from Him.
Visitor: Once you move from membership to discipleship, is it a permanent switch or can we move back and forth between the two? Why or how does this happen?
Peeler: I believe our ultimate call from the Lord is that we become disciples in a sense that we become more and more like Him. So I believe that our journey into the realm of discipleship should be a permanent one, not as in “perfection” but as in our “direction.” By His grace, every disciple is committed to growing everyday into His likeness. Discipleship is simply a commitment that makes a commitment to grow stronger and better through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Visitor: Do you remember a point when you felt yourself moving from membership to discipleship, and what helped you make this transition?
Peeler: As a child, I grew up basically as a “cultural Adventist.” I knew the rules to keep, what to wear, and the food to eat, but I did not know the real reasons why God uniquely called and created me. Though I tried to live a consistent life and felt that I truly loved the Lord, I still did not clearly understand the significance of discipleship—even after I reluctantly followed Him into the path of full-time ministry.
It was not until one day as a young minister I had an unusual encounter with God who clearly impressed to me that I was failing. It was quite a surprise because my baptisms were good, tithe was up, church was full, and the speaking opportunities were plentiful. But it was revealed to me that, although I was working hard to give him my “ministry,” what He desired was that I give Him all of “me.” After that encounter, I was spiritually broken and was truly “born again” for the first time and became a lifelong disciple. Rebirth is the first phase of the Discipleship.
Visitor: Your book is written to be used for personal or group study. From your experience in ministry, what have you learned about personal discipleship compared to growing disciples?
Peeler: The term “Growing” disciples speaks to the continuing levels of growth and maturity that are within the realm of discipleship. As is indicated in this resource, you begin by (Rebirth), then move to a life committed to God being the head of your life (Lordship), Then we develop habits and values that help to stabilize our walk (Abiding), then on to a life of service and fruitfulness (Abundant Living).
Personal discipleship is simply speaking of the universal call and mandate for all who have accepted Christ to personally choose to be an active and passionate follower.
Visitor: How would you like to see your book used and what impact do you want it to have?
Peeler: My goal is 3-fold:
- To help all who are sincere in discovering their call as His disciples to spend time in His Word. I have intentionally included the Bible as the main source of this resource. It is aimed to get people to reach more scriptures in a systematic way.
- To provide a simple tool that gives a clear understanding of how we grow and advance as a disciple of Christ.
- I desire all of us to keep growing in the grace of our Lord in order to move to higher levels of spiritual growth and commitment. I believe that it is only when we receive and obey His instructions that Christ can transform us into his image and make us more like Him in thought, attitude, action, and lifestyle as we look forward to His second coming.